Helping people to age well in the NHS Long Term Plan: a big challenge and an exciting opportunity

The NHS is working on a plan setting out our ambitions for improvement over the next decade, and how we will meet them over the five years of the recently announced funding settlement. Over the last few weeks, initial conversations have been taking place internally and externally to establish the scope of the plan, and to bring together working groups to develop policy proposals over the next few months.

We have asked Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK and co-leader of the working group looking at integrated and personalised care for older people on the NHS Long Term Plan to share her thoughts about how we can support people to delay the onset of serious health problems and reduce their impact.

It’s great that we are living longer but the bad news is that many of us spend our latter years coping with ill-health and associated care needs. We also have increasing numbers of people living with long term conditions and frailty, putting them at risk of repeated hospital admissions which can undermine their capacity to live independently and well. Time and time again studies have shown that most people want to live well at home, on their own terms, for as long as possible, so what can we do to make that the reality for more of us?

This is what the work stream I am co-leading is ultimately all about. It is based on the premise that we should be doing more to support people, living with long term conditions to experience personalised and integrated care; and in particular, from midlife onwards, delay the onset of serious health problems and reduce their impact. This would give everyone a more effective, more joined up and a more personalised service than they often receive at present. The NHS must play the central role in this, of course, but it can’t do it all on its own: social care is often crucial and the voluntary sector has a potential contribution to make as well. Nor should we forget about the families and informal carers who are holding many of these situations together.

At its simplest we think the future lies in more multi-disciplinary teams operating in the community, properly linked in with GPs as well as hospitals, so that people with long term conditions and frailty get the right support, at the right time. This happens in some places already but we need to ensure that in ten years’ time it happens everywhere – a big challenge for sure, but also an incredibly exciting opportunity and one we cannot afford not to take.

We are also asking patients, the public, staff and clinicians for their views about how we can make this happen. Please do take some time to read our discussion guide and fill in our feedback form to let us know what you think.

Caroline is Age UK’s Charity Director and oversees all the charity’s influencing and marketing. She is a member of the NHS Assembly and was formerly a SRO for the Ageing Well strand of the NHS Long Term Plan. She is also co-chair of the Care and Support Alliance (70+ charities campaigning for decent social care for all who need it). She has been at Age UK for a decade after other roles in the voluntary sector, the LGA, and as a civil servant and adviser in Government and Opposition.

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